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Interview Marathi

Cinema has the ability to surprise me every time, says Sthalpuran director Akshay Indikar

In an exclusive interview, the filmmaker talks about the centrality of using landscape as his canvas and making it reverberate with meaning.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Akshay Indikar’s Marathi-language film Sthalpuran delves into a child’s psyche to present ways in which a boy comprehends a tumultuous event in his life. When his father deserts the family, eight-year-old Dighu moves to his ancestral village with his mother and sister, where the evocative landscape echoes his desolation, loneliness and inability to comprehend the absence of his father.

Sthalpuran review: Refreshing perspective of the world through a child's eyes and mind

Indikar’s inspiration for the film came from a personal memory. "My father was a professor," he said. "One day he was delayed by two hours in picking me up. I was around 10 at the time and those two hours are always with me... where was he? Why did he get so late? The feeling in search of my father, for just those two hours, that memory stayed with me and I had to get it out. That’s how the idea [for the film] started.

"The other thing is that I like to travel and have travelled quite a bit in Maharashtra, particularly the Konkan region, and for the landscape [in the film] I felt that we should shoot here. I have grown up in Solapur, which is quite dry and one can see the badlands for long stretches, as there is less rainfall there. Konkan is the complete opposite. So I felt that we should set the film in a place which has a different atmosphere, a different landscape and energy, and see that space through a boy's perspective.

“Every space has its own story, its own smell and memory. We were thinking how to capture that. For me, cinema is not about storytelling, it is about sharing experiences or some kind of memories. If I want to tell a story, I will write a story, why will I make a film? Cinema is an audio-visual experience which I cannot express in words, so that was the beginning for me.”

Space chronicles feelings of displacement and abandonment and conveys Dighu’s longing for his home and his father. This longing and the contemplation around the idea of home has been a recurring motif for the filmmaker.

“My first film was on the same subject, longing," he said. "It’s the story of a 25-year-old poet who is trying to find his home, his inner space, and he feels that there is a space out there which is better [than where he is]. I feel that that space is within us and not something outside of us. That is a state of mind. So, my protagonist’s realisation [in Sthalpuran] lies in that, that his father is with him and he does not need to wander outside…he is part of nature and that his father is somewhere with him and they are one. That oneness I think is the idea of home, an inner state where you feel secure… and that keeps changing, so I don’t know what my protagonist will feel after a few years, when he gets a sense of responsibility…he might embark on another journey… I think the sense of home is a changing process, it’s related to the state of mind.” 

Sounds, colours, and the interplay of different textures of the landscape layer meaning upon it, so, naturally, the choice of location has been a primary concern for Indikar. While he is not interested in the over-exposed, stereotypical places that one usually sees on screen, his canvas is that which reverberates with certain emotions.

“The search for a location takes me much more time than shooting for the film," Indikar said. "I am also trying to show a space through different peoples’ unique perspectives. This is also about film grammar, where we think about how many perspectives can we portray a space from, how can its energy, character be evoked, and do we get a sense of the earth, which is why it goes into microscopic detail, so we wonder what are we looking at? Like in poetry, the word is the same, but when it is strung along with different words, it starts to become something new. So it is the same space, to try and see how we can create poetry.”

With sparse dialogues, the film allows insights into the child’s mind through his diary entries and by letting images speak for themselves and leaving them open to interpretation.

“I think it [the images] enables me to evoke multiple meanings," the filmmaker continued. "I think that that which is unsaid and mystical is more poetic, and that was my attempt. It all gets tied in one meaning when it comes under dialogue, but if it is left unsaid, you find multiple meanings in it and everyone makes their own interpretation.

"The diary served another purpose, it developed a sense of time. I wanted cinema to be more like music, where each person finds their own experience. It becomes like poetry, rather than maths. We have a homocentric approach to cinema, where we feel cinema can be only about human beings. But I think cinema can be of nature, of walls, of a village, the path leading to a school, all these things. We were working with the philosophy that we are a part of nature, not at the centre of it.”

A still from Sthalpuran

Though Indikar joined the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, (FTII) for a brief time, he quit to pursue creating films that resonated with him and did not necessarily adhere to a template or commonly held beliefs about the medium.

“Cinema has the ability to surprise me every time," he said. "When the person making the film finds an element of surprise in it, then I feel that that’s the strongest element and the most unbelievable possibilities emerge from what is shot. When we are shooting and have the raw footage, it does not seem like anything much will come out of it, but when we start stringing things together, like stringing words together while writing poetry, it starts becoming a complete experience which is exciting and surprising, and I find a lot of excitement in creating that again and again. With the visuals as well as sound. In fact, sound presents infinite possibilities. I can evoke so many things just with sound. And that creates a different kind of emotion altogether.”

Indikar's debut film Trijya was premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2019 and then screened at various festivals around the world. Sthalpuran has had a more illustrious journey. After being screened at the Berlinale, the film travelled to several festivals, including the International Film Festival of Kerala, where it bagged two awards for Best Debut Director from India and the NETPAC award for Best Asian Film in Competition.

Proud to have his film featured amongst those by acclaimed international filmmakers, Indikar said, “When we make any film, it feels like your first film, that’s what I feel, and this is my third film now. Till the time the film is not completed, one does not have the confidence. When we received the invitation from Berlin, one felt confident that someone else is also liking the film, so that was satisfying.

"It’s a very proud feeling that a Marathi-language film is presented amongst so many foreign-language films, without any star or major marketing, and people are getting associated with the film, remembering their home, their childhood. That is very satisfactory for me. An artiste only feels that his work is complete when it reaches others. It’s like a circle that becomes complete when it reaches the audience.”

Thinking about his ambition as a filmmaker, he said, “I feel that my film should be screened in every country at least once. My village, where I have been born and brought up, I want to show that to people, and share it with people in different countries.”

His next feature, Construction, is a love story which harks back to his folk identity and is the story of an architect’s journey which, in its quest for roots and identity, travels from his village to Europe.

Sthalpuran was the closing film at the 19th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, which was held from 20–27 May 2021.

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